Showcase Post I – A (Rather Awkward) Game of Taste

In her review of the pilot episode of HBO’s drama Game of Thrones, Ginia Bellafante questions the intent behind a costly production depicting a medieval fantasy story, in which the climate is ‘bizarre’ and the violence is always brought to the forefront. What offended Bellafante the most, however, is the ‘patronising’ attempt to insert this male sexual hopscotch costume drama into a female audience that would otherwise walk past the genre. Clearly, if the writers and the producers intended to sell such ‘boy fiction’ to a female The Hobbit reader by adding a few Sparctacus chest muscles into the show, their dirty plot has failed and been easily stuck right through.

Bellafante’s verdict on Game of Thrones being a ‘boy fiction’ caused a stir on the internet. Her assertion contains a strange allocation between contents (or genres) and their audience. In the case of Game of Thrones, the fantasy genre is for male and male alone, and the intense sex for the women who find the rest of the fantasy story irrelevant. Her anger is reasonable if Game of Thrones was indeed designed to be geek’s Shakespeare and women’s porn – of course that puts women in a very patronised situation. This segmentation of content and genre evoked several responses that form an alternative to Bellafante’s version. Ratcliffe (cited in Barnett, 2011) criticises Bellafante’s association between the fantasy genre and men as a generalisation about women.

Dramatically, in her rebuttal to Bellafante’s review Really, why would men ever want to watch “Game of Thrones”, Annalee Newitz provide many ‘evidence’ that the show is crafted exclusively for a female audience. I couldn’t help but reading the entire post as a sarcastic response, since she points out that the show is ‘Jane Austen set in a semi-medieval world’ – a melodrama in which family and children are the centre of many scenes. She argues that Sansa and Arya’s sufferings resemble Gossip Girl plot lines, which she speaks of as a show for the female.

To associate a genre with a gender is obviously blunt, in an age where stereotypes carry the expensive tag of ignorance. It’s an old story we have heard over and over again – ‘the grain of truth’ in these stereotypes somewhere, as David Barnett points out. He suggests that Bellafante’s generalisation came from a lack of research. Well, maybe what Bellafante has shown, is a traditional characteristic of fandom. As a ‘fan’ for the ‘real-world sociology’ type of drama, this genre is regarded by Bellafante as the the distinction of higher culture, through the narrative pleasure of narrative complexity, unique yet relatable characters and their sharp reflection of social context, etc – many aspects of quality TV we discussed over the semester. Meanwhile, Games of Thrones, carrying its illicit sexual and violent appeal, is simply downgraded to a community like IGN.com game boys who tweeted comments like ‘All I want to see is more boobs and fighting‘.

Just like Ratfliffe said ‘She didn’t like the show, so what?’ What Bellafante put on display is her taste for quality drama, unfortunately with little outlook into what’s outside the radius of her ‘taste’. She suggests that the show’s executive producer and screenwriter (and of course, best-selling author) David Benioff was not one in the right position to explore Middle Earth proclivities. His ‘taste’ for quality narrative, in Bellafante’s view, should be contained in a story like 25th Hour, in which a post 9/11 context reflection brings authentic narrative pleasure. The same puzzle goes for HBO, a network that pioneers through its distinct vision and commitment for high quality TV drama that ‘examine the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart’ (Bellafante, 2011). In Bellafante’s view, quality drama must stay loyal to ‘real-world sociology’, whether its political / social insights such as the municipal government in The Wire, or real geographies and realistic lives (Deadwood and the American West), neither of which Game of Throne qualifies for.

Yet Game of Thrones is a show that challenges Bellafante’s segmentation, and proves that this kind of stereotyping is a mere illusion. Bellafante pointed out after one episode, that the show has little to offer other than the perversion and bizaare fantasy elements such as Dorathki language creation. However as the show evolves one gets to witness and think about Westeros as an ‘institution’ woven by power, war, rules and order, characters such as Jon Snow experiences, learns and reflects upon their experiences with such a world, just like Tony Soprano does with the Mafia life, and Bill Henrickson with his faith and family. Game of Thrones continue the tradition of HBO’s success in narrative complexity, and does so in an even more extraordinary way. The pleasure from viewing a narratively complex drama often comes from the revolving thoughts around its context. Game of Thrones constructs a fantasy world unfamiliar to many of its audience, however we are still led to live lives in this world and reflect on its complexity. Illana Teitelbaum, in her response to Bellafante’s review, said that she did not expect HBO to bring ‘social commentary’ or ‘philosophical depth’ to Game of Thrones because the original book did not do so. However in my opinion the TV show ended up achieving both.

To link a genre to high or low taste is then very problematic. The fantasy genre had been condemned as ‘low’ because of the primary association with the kind of fandom portrayed as men who make comments such as

‘Dwarf sex is good, but only if it’s with chicks. If it’s just DUDES having dwarf sex, that is gay. But if it’s chicks, then there will probably be tits, and so I care about it.’

However, the example of Game of Thrones clearly breaks down the foundation of maintaining such stereotypes. To associate either genre or taste to gender is even more ignorant, dated, and therefore troublesome.

 

 

References

Barnett, D 2011, “Game of Thrones: Girl wants to play, too”, The Guardian, viewed Wednesday 10/10/2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/apr/18/game-of-thrones-girls-fantasy&gt;

Bellafante, G 2011, ‘A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms’ The New York Times, viewed Wednesday 10/10/2012, <http://tv.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/arts/television/game-of-thrones-begins-sunday-on-hbo-review.html&gt;

Newitz, A 2011, “Really, why would men ever want to watch Game of Thrones?”, io9, viewed Wednesday 10/10/2012, <http://io9.com/5792574/really-why-would-men-ever-want-to-watch-game-of-thrones&gt;

Teitelbaum, I 2011, “Dear New York Times: A Game of Thrones Is Not Just for Boys”, Huff Post Books, viewed Wednesday 10/10/2012, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ilana-teitelbaum/game-of-thrones-hbo_b_850014.html&gt;

 

 

 

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